Justia Virginia Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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In Virginia, Bryant McCants arranged for his 1970 Ford Mustang Mach 1 to be repaired at a shop operated by CD & PB Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Maaco Collision Repair & Auto Painting. The repair shop was managed by Hanson Butler, a part owner and employee of CD & PB Maaco. After the work was completed, McCants inspected the vehicle and was unsatisfied with the work, prompting Butler to agree to repaint it. However, due to various personal circumstances, McCants was unable to pick up the vehicle for several months. In the meantime, Butler initiated the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles' abandoned-vehicle process, which resulted in him acquiring title to the vehicle, which he later sold.McCants sued Butler for conversion, fraud, unjust enrichment, breach of contract, and violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. The jury found in favor of McCants on the conversion claim only and awarded him $78,500. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision, finding that Butler had properly followed the abandoned-vehicle process and had obtained legal title to the vehicle.The Supreme Court of Virginia disagreed with the Court of Appeals, holding that a rational jury could have found that Butler wrongfully used the DMV's abandoned-vehicle process as a pretext for severing McCants's ownership rights in the vehicle and thereafter claiming it for himself. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, reinstated the jury’s verdict, and affirmed the trial court’s confirmation order. View "McCants v. CD & PB Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Virginia reviewed the case of Dwayne Lamont Sample, Jr., who was convicted of attempted robbery. Sample challenged his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress an out-of-court identification from a victim based on a single photo showup, which he deemed impermissibly suggestive and thus unreliable. Sample also contested the sufficiency of the evidence used to convict him.The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed the decision of the lower courts, agreeing that the single photo showup, while generally viewed with suspicion, was not impermissibly suggestive in this case. The court found that the police officer's comment before showing the photo did not make the identification virtually inevitable, and was more of an expression of suspicion than a definite assertion. In evaluating the case, the court applied the five factors from Neil v. Biggers to assess the likelihood of misidentification, and found that all five factors weighed in favor of the victim’s identification reliability.Sample also argued that the DNA evidence and the victim's identification were insufficient to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The court disagreed, noting that the trial court had considered and rejected Sample's theory of secondary DNA transfer due to a lack of supporting evidence. The court concluded that a rational trier of fact could have found Sample guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, given the DNA evidence, eyewitness identifications, and Sample's proximity to the scene of the crime. The court affirmed Sample's conviction for attempted robbery. View "Sample v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this case, the Supreme Court of Virginia was asked to interpret Code § 19.2-306.1, a statute enacted in 2021 that addresses the range of punishment a court may impose upon the revocation of a suspended sentence. The defendant, Emily Katherine Delaune, was convicted of three drug offenses in 2019 and was sentenced to six years of incarceration, with four years suspended. After her release, she violated the terms of her probation by using drugs and absconding from supervision. The Circuit Court of the City of Virginia Beach revoked Delaune's suspended sentence based on these violations and ordered her to serve 60 days of active incarceration.Delaune appealed to the Court of Appeals of Virginia, arguing that under Code § 19.2-306.1, the circuit court was prohibited from imposing more than 14 days of active incarceration based on her technical violations. The Attorney General asserted that Code § 19.2-306.1 did not retroactively apply to Delaune’s probation violations.The Supreme Court of Virginia agreed with the Court of Appeals' ruling that the parties had implicitly agreed to proceed under Code § 19.2-306.1 during the probation revocation hearing, and that the Attorney General was bound by this agreement. The Supreme Court of Virginia also agreed with the Court of Appeals' interpretation of Code § 19.2-306.1, stating that the circuit court could not impose a term of active incarceration based on Delaune’s drug use, which constituted a first technical violation under the statute, and could impose a maximum of 14 days of active incarceration for Delaune’s absconding violation, which was automatically classified as a second technical violation under the statute. The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, holding that the circuit court erred when it ordered Delaune to serve 60 days of active incarceration. View "Commonwealth v. Delaune" on Justia Law

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In this case, Andrew Schmuhl ("Schmuhl") appealed the denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. At his trial, Schmuhl had claimed he was involuntarily intoxicated due to prescription medications at the time of committing a home invasion, which resulted in several criminal charges. His trial counsel argued that Schmuhl's involuntary intoxication was a separate defense from an insanity defense, which they chose not to raise. However, the trial court ruled that without an insanity defense, Schmuhl could not present expert testimony about his mental state, effectively barring his involuntary intoxication defense. Schmuhl was found guilty on all counts. Schmuhl later filed a habeas corpus petition arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective due to misunderstanding the law regarding the admissibility of mental state evidence without an insanity defense. The habeas court ruled that trial counsel's performance was not deficient and that Schmuhl was not prejudiced by their performance. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed the habeas court's decision, finding that Schmuhl's trial counsel's performance was objectively reasonable given the unclear state of the law at the time. The court noted that had trial counsel’s arguments been successful, they would have carried significant strategic benefits for Schmuhl, and that trial counsel's unsuccessful attempt to extend existing law for their client's benefit was not deficient. View "Schmuhl v. Clarke" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this case, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in favor of Peter Vlaming, a high school French teacher who was terminated by the West Point School Board for refusing to use a transgender student's preferred pronouns. Vlaming had chosen to use the student's preferred name but avoided using any third-person pronouns to refer to the student as it conflicted with his religious beliefs. The School Board fired Vlaming for not complying with its policy to use government-mandated pronouns.Vlaming sued the School Board, alleging that his termination violated his constitutional, statutory, and breach-of-contract rights. The Circuit Court dismissed Vlaming's claims, holding that they failed to state legally viable causes of action. The Supreme Court of Virginia, however, reversed the decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court concluded that Vlaming's complaint sufficiently alleged that the School Board substantially burdened his right to free exercise of religion under the Virginia Constitution and that his claims under the Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act should not have been dismissed. Moreover, the Court held that Vlaming has alleged a viable compelled speech claim under the free speech provision of the Virginia Constitution. The Court rejected the School Board's argument that it could compel Vlaming's speech as part of his official duties as a teacher. The Court concluded that Vlaming's refusal to use certain pronouns did not interfere with his duties as a French teacher or disrupt the school's operations.The Court's decision reaffirmed the fundamental right to free speech and the free exercise of religion under the Virginia Constitution, emphasizing that these rights extend to public school teachers in their interactions with students. It clarified that although the government has a legitimate interest in ensuring non-discrimination and respect for all students, this interest must be balanced against individual rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion. The Court also clarified that a public school teacher's speech in the classroom is not entirely within the control of the school board and that teachers cannot be compelled to express views that conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs. View "Vlaming v. West Point School Board" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the State Corporation Commission dismissing Verizon Virginia LLC's petition for a declaratory judgment for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that the Commission lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Verizon's petition pursuant to Va. Code 33.2-1815(B) and 33.2-1821.Verizon, a telecommunications company, filed a petition for a declaratory judgment with the Commission requesting a declaration that either Capital Beltway Express LLC (CBE) or The Lane Construction Corporation was responsible for costs pursuant to section 33.2-1815(B) to relocate some of Verizon's utility facilities, as required by the Virginia Department of Transportation in the underlying project to extend portions of the I-495 express lanes. The Commission dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction. Verizon appealed, arguing that sections 33.2-1815(B) and 33.2-1821 granted the Commission jurisdiction to resolve which party was responsible for the costs of the utility relocations necessitated by the project. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission correctly concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Verizon's petition. View "Verizon Virginia LLC v. SCC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the opinion of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's sentence for malicious wounding, holding that the court of appeals erred by reversing the trial court's restitution order as violative of Va. Code 19.2-305.1.Defendant was convicted of the malicious wounding of Justin Hawks. As a condition of Defendant's probation and suspended sentence the trial court ordered Defendant to reimburse the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) for Hawks's medical expenses. The court of appeals reversed the restitution award to DMAS and remanded the case. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 19.2-305.1 authorized the trial court to order restitution as a condition of Defendant's probation and sentence and to order payment of that restitution to DMAS for the portion of the medical expenses incurred by Hawks that DMAS had paid. View "Commonwealth v. Puckett" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's conviction, after a jury trial, of possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute, third or subsequent offense, and possession of heroin and Furanylfentanyl with the intent to distribute, third or subsequent offense, holding that Rule 3A:15 does not preclude a trial court from timely reconsidering a motion to strike.At issue in this appeal was whether Rule 3A:15 or the Double Jeopardy Clause restricts a trial court's authority to reconsider a motion to strike that the trial court granted in error. The court of appeals concluded that, once a court grants a motion to strike, the court is foreclosed from reconsidering its decision under Rule 3A:15, which requires the court to enter an order of acquittal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Rule 3A:15 does not prevent a court from reconsidering its ruling on a motion to strike; and (2) the Double Jeopardy Clause restricts a court's authority to reconsider a motion to strike, but those limitations were not implicated in this case. View "Commonwealth v. McBride" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's convictions of three counts of aggravated sexual battery by a parent under Va. Code 18.2-67.3 and four counts of taking indecent liberties with a child under Va. Code 18.2-370.1 but vacated the portion of the court of appeals' opinion deciding that Laurie Lee's proffered testimony provided Defendant with an alibi, holding that the court erred in part.In affirming Defendant's convictions the court of appeals defined alibi as a defense based on the physical impossibility of committing a crime and held that Lee's proffered testimony served as an alibi because it placed Defendant outside of the room where the offenses occurred. The Supreme Court vacated the portion of the opinion deciding that the proffered testimony provided Defendant with an alibi but affirmed the otherwise affirmed, holding that the court of appeals erred in ruling on the merits of this case because Defendant waived his challenge that the proffered testimony was offered for impeachment. View "Moison v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court in this real property dispute, holding that the escheat provision of Va. Code 58.1-3967, as applied to the factual circumstances of this case, violated Va. Const. art. I, 11.The City of Richmond obtained a judicial sale of a parcel of property that was subject to a statutory lien for delinquent taxes. The circuit court confirmed the sale and directed that the City's lien for delinquent taxes, along with its costs and legal fees, be fully paid by the purchase proceeds. Although the sale proceeds satisfied the tax lien, the circuit court concluded that section 58.1-3967 required it to award a portion of the surplus sale proceeds to the City instead of an unsatisfied junior lienor. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, as applied to this particular case, section 58.1-3967 unconstitutionally authorized the City to take the proceeds and keep them for itself. View "McKeithen v. City of Richmond" on Justia Law